People with a Felony Conviction Often Barred from Obtaining Occupational Licenses
Date:  05-07-2016

States should reconsider blanket denial of occupational licenses in order to reduce poverty and recidivism among reintegrating citizens
On April 23, 2016 Reentry Central posted an article about Virginia Governor restoring voting rights to over 200,000 people in his state that had past felony convictions. While this move was widely hailed, a new article from the New Yorker also mentioned that the state also has 853 restrictions that negatively impact people with criminal convictions.

From the New Yorker:

Two weeks ago, Terry McAuliffe, the governor of Virginia, issued an executive order that restored the vote to two hundred and six thousand people who have completed prison sentences and probation or parole for a felony conviction. The move was rightly hailed as a milestone for the state. The Governor effectively overrode a provision in Virginia’s Constitution from the post-Civil War period which was meant to disenfranchise African-Americans. In 2010, according to the Sentencing Project , one of every five black voters in the state had lost the right to vote, one of the highest rates of disenfranchisement in the country.

Voting rights are a prominent issue this year, so it is not surprising that attention turned to the political significance of the order, or that Republicans accused McAuliffe of enfranchising voters to strengthen Democrats’ position in the state. But voting rights are only one of many rights that are withheld from people who have had felony or other convictions. Virginia also imposes eight hundred and fifty-three other restrictions, known as collateral consequences, on people who have been convicted of a crime. For example, Virginia—and thirty-three other states—put up barriers when people who have been convicted apply for a license to work in one of many occupations, as a report issued last week by the National Employment Law Project explained. The state lets licensing agencies reject these applicants—to be cosmetologists, home inspectors, engineers, and other kinds of professionals—on the ground that they are generally unfit or unsuited. The agencies do not have to prove that a particular conviction is evidence of a person’s lack of fitness or suitability to do a specific job, and there is no easy way for an applicant to challenge a rejection.

In the past generation, the scope and number of collateral consequences have dramatically increased. Every state and the federal government now imposes these restrictions, which prevent people convicted of felonies and misdemeanors from getting, among other things, jobs, housing, education, government contracts, bank loans, and public benefits. As retribution became the focus of criminal justice, rehabilitation fell away as a goal of the system. So did the idea that people who finish paying their debt to society—by completing their term in prison and their probation or parole, or whatever their penalty—have earned a fresh start. Collateral consequences are considered civil rather than criminal matters. They are described as regulations instead of punishments. But they can be harshly and repeatedly punitive, a relentless form of social stigma. Continue reading